First Ascent, if you were unaware, is the upmarket rebranding of Eddie Bauer aimed at more rugged outdoor use. They offer a fine line in rather nicely designed clothing including down jackets and vests, microfleece tops, rain gear, and full-on arctic/mountaineering gear. Quality across the board is fairly high, and prices are competitive. It seems that Eddie Bauer have a sale of some kind every day, and often, if you buy from one of the stores, you end up paying 50% less than the ticket price, which always sends me home with a smile on my face.
I'd been looking for a hooded mid-layer for winter use for a while. By far the most popular item closest to my needs is the Patagonia R1 Hoodie (which RioLeichtsinn reviewed this week). However, I've always balked at premium you have to pay for the Patagonia brand, and $149 for a microfleece top seems ridiculously expensive to me.
- First Ascent's hooded mid/outer layer, priced at $99, and weighing in at 456g. I picked up the Hangfire in one of the aforementioned regular sales for $79 in autumn, and I've worn it almost every day since then. It has become my go-to top for backpacking, hiking, dog-walking, and trips to the Blue Nile.
As you can see, it's a stylishly designed top - clearly aimed at the fashion-conscious urban outdoorsman (
). One might say that it's a little
designed. Just look at all those seams!
The seams demark the different materials used: textured fleece (100% brushed polyester), and two-way stretch (with 5% spandex. Ooooh! Spandex!). The torso material of the Hangifire has been treated with DWR. This is because in America, it never rains on your arms. I have no idea why First Ascent made this bizarre decision, however I've found it to be suitably water repellant for light showers, but in anything more than that I'd slip on a rain jacket. The zips are also of the semi water-proofed variety.
I've found the jacket to be reasonably warm, but it only provides moderate windproofing in light winds (to be fair, it is advertised as providing protection from light winds, which is accurate enough). Once temperatures entered that awkward damp-cold region between -3 and +3C, I began to feel a chill. On either side of that, it's a great addition to a layering system.
The Hangfire has been designed as a mid- or outer layer, depending on weather conditions. I've used it as both - it's slim design allows it to easily fit under a light puffy jacket, and it's non-piling, weather resistant material makes it a great jacket for wearing casually around town. This is the main advantage is has over the R1 - I'd wear the Hangfire far more often as an outer layer. The R1, however, is really intended mainly as a base or mid layer, so direct comparison is unfair.
The inner material is a thin brushed fleece - not the fast-drying cuddly fleece waffle of PowerDry. I've not got it soaked yet, so cannot attest to it's drying speed. I suspect the outer material might take a little longer if it were allowed to wet out.
The material inside the hood is especially lovely. It's soft and feels deliciously warm against your face. On chilly mornings I pull the hood up over my hat for facial protection. It's super-stretchy to accommodate a helmet, but its elasticity pulls it close without the need for additional cinch cords. It isn't a true balaclava hood however, and leaves the face more or less fully open. One improvement I would like to see would be to change the zipper to an off-center design. I don't like a cold metal zip against my chin in frigid temps.
While fleece is quite breathable in itself, all the pockets are mesh lined so you can unzip the chest or side pockets to let out moisture when you're struggling up the hills. The chest pocket also has a hole for headphones (made, for some reason, out of reflective material) should you be in full urban mode.
Sadly, First Ascent made one terrible oversight in the design of the Hangfire. There are no thumb-loops. On the other hand, like most First Ascent clothing, a separate 'tall' model is offered, extending the length of torso. More manufacturers should consider this (my Montbell ExLight down jacket, for example, is almost laughably short on me).
In summary, the Hangfire makes an excellent winter mid layer or shoulder season outer layer. It's not the lightest hoodie around, but it's flexibility and sturdy construction make up for that. I'd like to see First Ascent make a more direct R1 competitor. Their range continues to surprise me, and their quality, while not perhaps the best on the market, is certainly high enough. Fortunately their prices are considerably more appetizing than certain other, more trendy, brands.
If you're looking for something flexible to add to your layering system, I recommend giving the
a closer look.